Fauci doesn’t think U.S. will have to go back into “shutdown mode”

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Top U.S. infectious disease official Anthony Fauci said on Wednesday that he doesn’t think the United States will have to go back into “shutdown mode” in order to contain the spread of COVID-19.

“We can do much better without locking down,” Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at an event hosted by Harvard University. He said Americans should wear masks, keep physically distanced, shut down bars, wash their hands and favor outdoor activities over indoor ones in order to help stop transmission of the virus.

(Reporting by Michael Erman; editing by Diane Craft)

U.S. police unions approved for millions in pandemic aid

By Reade Levinson and Chris Prentice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – At least six police unions qualified for a combined total of $2 million to $4.4 million in emergency U.S. government loans intended to help small businesses stay afloat during the coronavirus lockdown, according to data released Monday by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The unions represent about 110,000 law enforcement officers in Philadelphia, Houston, New York state, Michigan and 11 Southern states.

All told, the six approved loans make up a small fraction of the program’s $521 billion in lending across 4.9 million loans as of June 30. The data released on Monday does not specify whether the loans were disbursed or if the unions will qualify for loan forgiveness.

Intended to help small companies and non-profit organizations keep their work forces employed during the coronavirus crisis, the federal Paycheck Protection Program allows employers with 500 or fewer workers hurt by the economic fallout of the pandemic to apply for a forgivable government-backed loan.

The six police unions typically receive 90% of their revenue from membership dues, according to tax records reviewed by Reuters, and thus, barring layoffs, would not be hurting for cash. All six unions have work forces of their own, providing support to members. Their combined loan applications said they sought to retain 331 jobs.

Four forces with unions that received loans – the New York State Police, Philadelphia Police Department, Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office and Houston Police Department – told Reuters they had not laid off or furloughed any employees during the pandemic, so their unions’ dues collections should not have suffered any significant hits.

It is clear the loan program, overseen by the Small Business Administration (SBA), gave out funds with few limits on who would benefit, said Liz Hempowicz, director of public policy at the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight.

“The onus was on the SBA to ensure we’re not just throwing public funds at entities that don’t need them,” she said. “It is common sense we’d prioritize the industries that need it most, and I don’t know that’s police unions right now.”

James Miller, spokesman for the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, said the union sought a loan in anticipation of potential revenue losses and possible layoffs amid prison closures. The union, which represents about 26,000 employees and retirees, qualified to borrow between $150,000 and $350,000.

“Based on current revenue projections for the remainder of the year, we anticipate returning the loan, as it is the prudent thing to do,” he said, in an email to Reuters.

The other police unions approved for loans did not return repeated emails and calls seeking comment.

Qualifying for a loan of between $1 million and $2 million was the Southern States Police Benevolent Association, which represents about 58,000 federal, state, county and municipal law enforcement officers in eleven states. The Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police, which represents 14,000 active and retired Philadelphia police officers and sheriff deputies, qualified to borrow between $350,000 and $1 million.

Authorized to borrow between $150,000 and $350,000 were the Police Officers Labor Council in Michigan, which represents about 350 sheriffs and police departments; the Houston Police Officers’ Union, which represents 5,300 Houston Police Department officers; and the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Home Association, a separate non-profit that maintains a lodge for union meetings.

The police unions were among at least 117 public and private sector unions that applied for loans through the program. The SBA did not release the names of recipients of loans less than $150,000.

The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, which represents about 900,000 members across industries including teaching, performing arts, hospitality, manufacturing and construction, said in an email Wednesday that it received $267,000 and plans to ask for loan forgiveness.

Many affiliate unions represent industries that have laid off members as a result of the coronavirus, Rick Bloomingdale, Pennsylvania AFL-CIO president, said in an email. Faced with declining dues, he said, the union decided to seek aid.

“We made the decision to apply for the loan to keep our people employed.”

(Reporting by Reade Levinson in London and Chris Prentice in Washington, D.C.)

WHO to travelers: keep an eye on ‘anywhere and everywhere’ COVID-19

GENEVA (Reuters) – The World Health Organization on Tuesday urged travelers to wear masks on planes and keep themselves informed as COVID-19 cases surge again in some countries, prompting new restrictions in places like Australia.

Spokeswoman Margaret Harris urged people not to be caught off-guard by resurgent local epidemics and quarantine measures, saying: “If it’s anywhere, it’s everywhere and people travelling have to understand that.”

“This virus is widespread and people have to take that very, very seriously.”

The WHO said last month that it would update its travel guidelines ahead of the northern hemisphere summer holidays but they have not yet been released.

In the meantime, travelers should “remember things will change, or may well change”, Harris said at a Geneva briefing.

“We’re seeing a lot of upticks, a lot of changes in different countries, countries that had successfully shut down their first transmission are seeing second upticks,” she added, mentioning Australia and Hong Kong.

Lockdown measures were reimposed in Australia’s second biggest city on Tuesday, confining Melbourne residents to their homes unless undertaking essential business, as officials scramble to contain a coronavirus outbreak.

The WHO’s previous guidance for travelers has included common-sense advice applicable to other settings such as social distancing, washing your hands and avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

Harris also proposed on Tuesday wearing a mask on planes, a measure which is already a requirement of many airlines.

“If you are flying, there is no way you can social distance in a plane, so you will need to take other precautions including using a face covering,” she said.

(Reporting by Emma Farge, Stephanie Nebehay and Michael Shields; Editing by Catherine Evans)

As lockdown fuels domestic abuse, social media users fight back

By Sonia Elks, Umberto Bacchi and Annie Banerji

LONDON/TBILISI/NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – When British teenager Kaitlyn McGoldrick heard domestic violence was increasing under lockdown, she posted a video on social media showing victims how to make a silent emergency call to police without their attackers finding out.

“I just wanted to get the message out there that there are still places you can go,” said McGoldrick, 14, a volunteer police cadet whose post has had more than 50,000 views on the TikTok video-sharing platform.

As coronavirus curbs trap victims under the same roof as abusers, the United Nations has called domestic violence a “shadow pandemic”, and the issue has led to a flurry of online campaigns by charities, celebrities and ordinary social media users.

Inundated with positive responses to her video, McGoldrick plans to share more advice posts with backing from the local police youth volunteer group to which she belongs.

Some of the anti-abuse posts circulating on social media are proving more controversial, however.

There has been criticism of a trend on TikTok in which young women wear lurid fake blood makeup to depict domestic violence scenarios. Critics say such videos could upset victims and often appear more clickbait than genuine campaigning.

Domestic violence campaign groups have also expressed concerns about posts inviting victims to get in touch for support instead of directing them to more expert advice.

SPOTLIGHT ON VIOLENCE

Still, most campaigners say attention-grabbing posts and videos have shone a spotlight on violence within the family, which is often cloaked in shame and fear that stops many victims seeking help.

“We need and appreciate attention on this critical and all-too-often hidden issue,” Latanya Mapp Frett, chief executive of the Global Fund for Women, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

While celebrities from Russian punk band Pussy Riot to Bollywood stars have spoken out in anti-domestic violence campaigns, the vast majority of online posts are shared by ordinary social media users.

Some post on their own stories of abuse, often offering to support others going through similar situations.

Others share clips including tips such as how to secretly call police under the guise of ordering a pizza.

Attention-grabbing videos like those posted on TikTok could particularly help reach young people who might be less able to spot warning signs of abuse, said Marcella Pirrone, of Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE).

She cautioned that posters should offer emotional support and information rather than pressuring women to potentially put themselves at risk by demanding they contact police, but said wider discussion of the issue was valuable.

“What’s interesting is there is a lot of talk about violence now and that’s something we had always been asking for: to have awareness-raising, to have proper attention to this,” she said.

RAISE AWARENESS

The involvement of celebrities and social media influencers is also helping to raise awareness about the heightened risk of abuse during worldwide lockdowns.

“COVID-19 has not created new problems for women, it has just exacerbated the old ones,” U.S. comedian and presenter Samantha Bee said in a clip from her late-night television show addressing gendered abuse and shared on her social media pages.

The video, which has gathered hundreds of thousands of views, includes helpline details and highlights virtual support groups for women unable to leave the house.

A social media campaign starring more than a dozen Bollywood and theatre actors was launched in India earlier this month by Mumbai-based Women in Film and Television (WIFT).

“If you’re beaten at home, if you’re facing excesses or bad behavior and you want to report it, please call on the helpline numbers below,” said actor Richa Chadha in an online video in the #baskuchdinaur (‘Just a few more days’) campaign.

In Russia, a pop star who was condemned for suggesting women who spoke out against abuse had mental problems has sought to make amends by producing an informative YouTube movie about domestic violence that has racked up more than 4 million views.

In a country with high levels of abuse where speaking out is often stigmatized, Regina Todorenko’s 80-minute film has drawn “unprecedented” public attention to the issue, said Janette Akhilgova, a Russia consultant for rights group Equality Now.

With many people spending more time on social media during the lockdown, the teenager McGoldrick said it was a vital tool for increasing awareness.

“It’s such an important subject to get out there,” she said. “The more people are spreading the word about it, the better.”

(Reporting by Sonia Elks, Umberto Bacchi and Annie Banerji; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

Back on the road

The U.S. auto industry is slowly returning to life with assembly plants scheduled to reopen on Monday and suppliers gearing up in support as the sector that employs nearly 1 million people seeks to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCA) all have been preparing for weeks to reopen their North American factories in a push to restart work in an industry that accounts for about 6% of U.S. economic activity.

The reopening will be a closely watched test of whether workers across a range of industries can return to factories in large numbers without a resurgence of infections.

Hitting new lows

Japan’s economy became the world’s largest to slip into recession after the pandemic, first-quarter data showed on Monday, putting the nation on course for what could be its deepest post-war slump.

The GDP numbers underlined the broadening impact of the outbreak, with exports plunging the most since the devastating March 2011 earthquake as global lockdowns and supply chain disruptions hit shipments of Japanese goods.

But analysts warn of an even bleaker picture for the current quarter as consumption crumbled after the government in April requested citizens to stay home and businesses to close.

China on alert for new wave

While much of the rest of the world is experimenting with easing restrictions, one Chinese province is back in a partial lockdown after a spate of infections.

Jilin in the northeast reported two more confirmed cases over the weekend to take its total number of new infections to 33 since the first case of the current wave was reported on May 7. Separately, the financial hub of Shanghai reported one new locally transmitted case for May 17, its first since late March.

Pop-up carparks

Australia’s most populous state New South Wales encouraged its residents to avoid peak-hour public transport as it began its first full week of loosened lockdown measures, which saw people heading back to offices.

To help with maintaining social distancing, extra bicycle lanes and pop-up car parking lots will be made available, officials said.

“We normally encourage people to catch public transport but given the constraints in the peak…, we want people to consider different ways to get to work,” state premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.

Furloughs no cure-all

Temporary unemployment schemes have spread far wider and faster than during the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, but are not likely to save jobs in sectors which face a tougher recovery post-pandemic, such as leisure and tourism.

These schemes, which typically provide at least 80% of pay for workers for whom there is no work now, mean companies do not face firing and potential re-hiring costs. Workers are more inclined to keep spending and so help prop up the economy.

“If it’s more than a year, you need other solutions and will need other policies like retraining,” said Gregory Claeys, senior fellow at economic think-tank Bruegel. “It’s good in a lockdown, but if there is more social change, you need alternatives.”

(Compiled by Karishma Singh and Mark John; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

‘Wild, wild West’: Wisconsin reopens for business

By Brendan O’Brien

PORT WASHINGTON, Wis. (Reuters) – As a handful of patrons sat at the bar nursing beers and watching a rerun of a Milwaukee Bucks basketball game on a cloudy Thursday afternoon, Junior Useling prepared for what he hoped would be another busy night at the Patio Bar & Grill.

It was just last evening that the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled the governor does not have the power to impose a statewide coronavirus lockdown, sparking a mix of hope and confusion among struggling business owners across the Midwestern state.

Useling, 71, considers himself one of the lucky ones: Port Washington is part of Ozaukee County, which unlike a half-dozen other counties and cities across Wisconsin has interpreted the court’s decision as an unfettered green light.

“Why would I stay closed? … I got mortgages and bills. My god, if we kept on going we would all be broke,” he told Reuters. “This country is supposed to be free to do what you want.”

The court sided with a legal challenge from Republican lawmakers who argued the state’s top public health official, Andrea Palm, exceeded her authority by imposing a stay-at-home order through May 26.

Not long after the ruling was announced, some beer-loving Wisconsinites rushed to bars for their first taste of freedom in nearly two months, and pictures appeared on social media of maskless crowds of revelers nowhere near 6 feet apart.

The rift over how and when to reopen in Wisconsin reflects its status as a key battleground for the Nov. 3 presidential election, along with neighboring Michigan and Pennsylvania, which Donald Trump won by a hair in 2016.

At a media briefing on Thursday, Palm urged state residents to continue to stay home even if their local leaders said otherwise, warning that relaxed restrictions risked “increasing our cases and deaths.”

Wisconsin had recorded 11,380 coronavirus cases and 433 deaths as of Thursday.

The owner of Remington’s River Inn, Amy Ollman, said she had already made up her mind to reopen before the ruling, a decision endorsed by a patron who shouted “open up America” as she described cleaning tables and chairs for the past two weeks.

“Top to bottom, left to right, we cleaned this entire place,” she said from behind her bar in the village of Thiensville, about 20 miles (32 km) north of Milwaukee and also part of Ozaukee County. “It’s time to get back to normalcy.”

WRESTLING WITH DECISIONS

The court’s decision came as state leaders wrestle with how and when to relax mandatory business closures and other restrictions on social gatherings that have proved successful in slowing the outbreak but have devastated the economy.

Like most of his counterparts, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers has had to weigh the interests of cities such as Milwaukee and Madison against less-populated areas that have seen fewer cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

Evers’ one-size-fits-all approach rankled Republicans in his state and drew fire from President Donald Trump, who took a swipe at the governor on Twitter on Thursday saying Wisconsin was “bustling” and “people want to get on with their lives.”

But the court’s ruling also triggered confusion as some local leaders in cities such as Milwaukee and Appleton, as well as in Dane, Brown and Kenosha counties, kept their lockdowns in place.

Kristine Hillmer, president of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, sent out guidance on Thursday telling her group’s 7,000 mainly independent eating and drinking establishments to follow local restrictions if they exist.

“The rest of the state they can open 100% however they want,” she said. “It’s a little bit of the Wild Wild West right now.”

Mike Eitel said his phone “blew up” after the court ruling with patrons wanting to know if Milwaukee’s Nomad World Pub and the other establishments he owns would be opening that night. He said it was a clear sign of pent-up demand.

But like other owners, Eitel said he has struggled to buy masks, gloves and other protective equipment for his workers, is faced with rising meat prices and wonders if a bar can even be profitable with strict social distancing rules.

He has also had to straddle two worlds: while the Nomad cannot open its doors until May 26 at the earliest under city rules, the outdoor bar and water sports rental shop he runs in neighboring Waukesha County has been free of any restrictions as of Wednesday night.

“There is massive confusion on what it all means,” Eitel said. “It’s insane.”

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Port Washington, Wisconsin and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Daniel Wallis)

Truckers hit by coronavirus pandemic face rocky road to recovery

By Karl Plume

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Bryan Hutchens in Oklahoma estimates he’s only used his two flat-bed trucks to shift oilfield equipment for a week out of the past month as the coronavirus crisis shutters businesses.

In New York, trucking firm ERL Intermodal says its cargo volumes have halved as lockdowns sideline its business of moving everything from olive oil to garden hoses to truck parts.

At the world’s busiest border, trucks hauling food and consumer products north to the United States are returning empty to Mexico where mass job losses have hit demand, leaving cash-strapped truckers to log hundreds of costly, empty miles.

The pandemic has turned the global trucking industry on its head. As swathes of the world economy shut down and curbs on movement and gatherings disrupt supply chains, freight companies are hemorrhaging cash and sidelining thousands of truckers.

“Once the economy gets going again, my fear is that there will be so many truckers out of the business by then,” said Steve Sperbeck, general manager for ERL, which has a fleet of 52 trucks based in Utica, New York.

According to the International Road Transport Union (IRU) in Geneva, which represents operators in 80 countries, new freight contracts have declined by 60% to 90% since COVID-19 struck while empty runs have climbed by up to 40%.

For truckers shipping products such as car parts, clothes, flowers and construction materials, operations have ground to an almost complete halt, the IRU said.

Lockdown restrictions in India, the world’s second-most populous country, have sidelined 80% of the 10 million trucks behind a $130 billion industry that hauls 60% of the country’s freight.

In Brazil, which relies on trucks to shift key exports such as soybeans, coffee and sugar to ports, shipments have also slumped. Carlos Litti, director for road transportation at the National Confederation of Transport Workers, said firms were now delaying critical maintenance work such as tire retreading, as government support for the sector had been insufficient.

“At the moment, there is no way to pressure the government,” Litti said. “The economy just has to turn around.”

SMALL CARRIERS VULNERABLE

In March, U.S. freight rates surged on fears the virus and the closure of highway truck stops would discourage drivers from making long trips. But with many factories shut and port traffic down, rates have plummeted as truckers battle over jobs to try to stay afloat through the crisis.

If the pain is prolonged, smaller U.S. carriers that cannot spread their costs across a large fleet could shut their doors, pushing skilled drivers out of the business and accelerating a longer-term shortage of truckers, industry groups say.

Some 97% of trucking companies in the United States operate fewer than 20 trucks, and 91% have six or fewer, according to the American Trucking Associations. Those workers rely more often on one-off jobs than long-term contracts.

Some routes are paying just 75 cents to 80 cents a mile, less than half of what’s needed to pay for fuel, insurance and other operating costs, according to five truckers. Pay is mostly determined by distances driven and they have also dropped.

When energy firms hit by the slump in oil prices stopped giving work to Hutchens in Oklahoma, he parked his rigs instead of rushing, like many other truckers, to haul essential goods such as food and medical equipment at loss-making rates.

Bids in the spot market have crashed to the lowest in years as shuttered factories, schools and malls have left scores of truckers that usually have longer-term contracts searching for new cargo to haul.

“In some lanes, rates are lower now than they were 15 years ago, but all of our costs, from fuel to insurance, have gone up,” Hutchens said.

He has laid off one employee and may have to begin selling his equipment if business does not return to more normal levels in the next two to three months. Relaxed restrictions on driver hours and more transparency on shippers’ margins could help smaller operators compete, Hutchens said.

“We’re a small company. There’s not a whole lot we can cut,” he said. “When we do come back online, we don’t know what the volume is going to be, so we don’t know how quickly things are going to return to normal.”

For an interactive graphic on average U.S. truck freight rates click on: https://tmsnrt.rs/2Z3sgYG

‘WE’RE BEING GOUGED’

ERL Intermodal says it earns more from pre-contracted shipments than spot market loads but revenues for the central New York trucker have also dropped. Six ERL drivers have been furloughed and paychecks for those left have dropped 30% as their hours behind the wheel decline.

To make ends meet, ERL leased nine of its refrigerated trailers to the Department of Homeland Security for use as makeshift morgues for COVID-19 victims. The company also tapped an emergency government loan program to help to pay salaries.

“Financially, it probably wasn’t the best decision, but good drivers are hard to come by,” said ERL’s Sperbeck.

At the Mexico-U.S. border, some truckers are carrying just one full load south for every seven full northbound trips, well below the usual three-to-one ratio, according to data from freight forwarder Nuvocargo.

“We are very concerned that if business does not come back to usual … it’s going to result in things like bankruptcies and losing jobs,” Nuvocargo chief executive Deepak Chhugani said.

Dozens of U.S. truckers parked near the White House in Washington for over a week this month to protest over the low freight rates and industry regulations they say are disproportionately hurting small, independent truckers.

Standing by make-shift shelters, truck driver Mike Landis from Pennsylvania said his workload had dropped by up to 50% since the pandemic struck, and most of the jobs available were being offered at rates below operating costs.

“After being told we’re essential and told by the government to stay out here and basically risk our health to continue moving the things that the country needs, we’re being gouged,” Landis said.

“We’re here as middle-class people, the people that put the president in office, and we’re here asking him for help.”

(Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; Additional reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles, Alberto Alerigi in Sao Paulo and Emma Farge in Geneva; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and David Clarke)

Lessons from around the world: How schools are opening up after COVID-19 lockdowns

(Reuters) – Public health official Anthony Fauci warned on Tuesday about the dangers to children if U.S. schools are reopened and California’s state university system, the largest in the United States, canceled classes for the fall semester.

As the U.S. debates when to bring children back into classrooms, phased-in reopenings have begun in numerous countries around the world.

Here’s how schools around the world are trying to protect children as they reopen:

SOCIAL DISTANCING MEASURES

Denmark eased its coronavirus lockdown in mid-April by reopening schools and day care centres, although concerns they might become breeding grounds for a second wave of cases convinced thousands of parents to keep their children at home.

Teaching staff there are under instruction to keep social distancing in place between children and, with many school buildings staying closed, some teachers are taking pupils outside and writing with chalk on the playground instead of a blackboard.

In Switzerland, children at Geneva’s La Tour School had to adapt to new rituals, with parents dropping them off at a distance. Classrooms were half full to reduce crowding and desks spaced two meters (6.5 feet) apart.

Under a courtyard shelter in heavy rain, children laughed while others played hopscotch and one girl helped a smaller child put on disposable gloves.

PLASTIC SHIELDS AND HAND SANITISER

In the Netherlands, the Springplank school in the city of Den Bosch installed plastic shields around students’ desks and disinfectant gel dispensers at the doorways.

“Our teachers are not worried,” said Rascha van der Sluijs, the school’s technical coordinator. “We have flexible screens that we bought so we can protect our teachers if students are coughing.”

The Canadian province of Quebec reopened some of its schools on Monday, as some parents and teachers expressed uncertainty over the move’s safety. The Ecole St-Gerard, in a Montreal suburb, opened with staff wearing visors and using hand sanitizer.

STAGGERED SCHOOL SHIFTS

Schools in Australia’s biggest state, New South Wales, reopened on Monday but only allowing students to attend one day a week on a staggered basis.

Australia’s second-most populous state, Victoria, will resume face-to-face teaching from May 27, weeks earlier than expected. The state including the city of Melbourne will allow teenagers in classrooms first, followed by younger pupils from June 9, Andrew said.

Israel reopened some schools this month but the move was boycotted by several municipalities and many parents who cited poor government preparation.

Kitted with masks and hand-cleaners, the first three grades of elementary school and the last two grades of high school were allowed back, redistributed in classes capped at 15 pupils to enforce social distancing.

Across France, primary school pupils on Tuesday sat at least a metre apart in small classes and listened to teachers in masks on their first day back after two months of home-schooling during the coronavirus lockdown.

TESTING AND TEMPERATURE CHECKS

In Cyprus, health workers wearing personal protective equipment tested students for COVID-19 at a school in Nicosia after high schoolers were allowed to return beginning May 11.

In Shanghai, students and staff alike were required to enter the school building via a thermal scanner when school reopened last week after three months of lockdown. The walls are papered with posters on measures to tackle the coronavirus and in the spotlessly clean school canteen, glass walls divide the tables, so only two students can eat together.

It may be more like going to a hospital than a school, but the Shanghai students returning to class after three months of lockdown are thrilled to be there.

“I feel so excited coming back to school. Usually we look forward to the holidays but suddenly our holidays became so long, 17-year-old Zhang Jiayi told Reuters. “This time, we longed to go back to school, where we can see our friends and teachers.”

(Editing by Mark John and Lisa Shumaker)

Sitting ducks: UK charity sees surge in calls from stalking victims

By Emma Batha

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – British charities for victims of stalking have reported a surge in calls during the coronavirus lockdown, with women isolated at home saying they feel like “sitting ducks”.

Paladin, a national anti-stalking service, said on Monday that requests for help jumped 40% since the lockdown was imposed on March 23.

Campaigners said police and the judiciary did not take “the invidious crime” seriously enough even though research showed stalking was a factor in more than 90% of domestic homicides.

“Stalking is premeditated and is extremely dangerous behaviour,” said Rachel Horman, chairwoman of Paladin.

She said most victims were reporting being stalked via social media, messaging apps and email, but physical stalking was still happening despite the lockdown.

Some women had even found their stalkers waiting for them when they dropped off shopping for relatives.

“Their stalker is watching the house and knows exactly where they are now much more than they did in the past, and that’s making them feel a lot more anxious,” said Horman, a solicitor who specialises in domestic violence and stalking cases.

“I’ve had several clients say to me they feel like sitting ducks.”

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which runs a national anti-stalking helpline, says nearly 1.5 million people are victims of stalking each year in England and Wales.

The trust could not be contacted, but calls to the helpline are reported to have increased.

Katy Bourne, chairwoman of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, which advises Britain’s police forces, described lockdown as a “stalker’s paradise”.

“Stalkers normally would have to go to work, but now with everyone in lockdown they have 24 hours a day to obsess over their victims,” said Bourne.

“If they went into lockdown not knowing much about social media, and how to stalk across it, you can bet your life they’ve learned an awful lot since they’ve been indoors.”

Bourne, herself a victim of stalking, said referrals to a stalking support group in the south of England were up 26% since lockdown.

She said many victims suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and that by the time someone asks for help they had on average already suffered 100 incidents.

“I want police forces to absolutely make this a priority because there are many thousands of victims out there who are suffering in silence,” Bourne said.

“It’s pretty evil … It needs to be called out.”

Horman said there was growing support for a national register of stalkers and domestic abusers similar to the sex offenders register.

“They are serial offenders. If they stop abusing one person they don’t just give up, they will then focus on somebody else and it goes on and on,” she said. “It makes absolute sense to monitor them.”

(Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Germany surge sounds coronavirus alarm as world takes steps to reopen

By Douglas Busvine and Michel Rose

BERLIN/PARIS (Reuters) – Germany reported on Monday that new coronavirus infections were accelerating exponentially after early steps to ease its lockdown, news that sounded a global alarm even as businesses opened from Paris hair salons to Shanghai Disneyland.

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute reported that the “reproduction rate” – the number of people each person infected with the coronavirus goes on to infect – had risen to 1.1. Any rate above 1 means the virus is spreading exponentially.

German authorities had taken early steps to ease lockdown measures just days earlier, a stark illustration that progress can swiftly be reversed even in a country with one of the best records in Europe of containing the virus so far.

It follows a new outbreak in night clubs in South Korea, another country that had succeeded in limiting infections.

Governments around the world are struggling with the question of how to reopen their economies while still containing the coronavirus. In Europe, the world’s worst-hit continent, Spain and France began major steps to ease lockdowns, while Britain announced more cautious moves.

Traffic flowed along the Champs Elysees in Paris, a giant tricolor flag billowing under the Arc de Triomphe, as workers cleaned shop-front windows to reopen.

“Everyone’s a little bit nervous. Wow! We don’t know where we’re headed but we’re off,” said Marc Mauny, a hairstylist who opened his salon in western France at the stroke of midnight when new rules took effect.

Mickey Mouse welcomed thinned-out crowds in Shanghai, the first Disney theme park to re-open, with a strict limit on the number of tickets. Parades and fireworks were canceled, and workers and guests were required to wear face masks and have their temperatures screened at the entrance.

“I think (these measures) make tourists feel at ease,” said Kay Yu, a 29-year-old pass holder wearing a Minnie Mouse hat, who said he had woken up at 4 a.m. to make the trip to the park.

“IT’S NOT OVER UNTIL IT’S OVER”

A German health ministry spokesman said the authorities were taking the rise in the infection rate seriously and it did not mean the outbreak was out of control.

Karl Lauterbach, a Social Democrat lawmaker and professor of epidemiology, had warned that the virus could start spreading again quickly after seeing large crowds outside on Saturday in his home city of Cologne.

“It has to be expected that the R rate will go over 1 and we will return to exponential growth,” Lauterbach said in a tweet. “The loosening measures were far too poorly prepared.”

In South Korea, which largely avoided a lockdown by implementing a massive testing and contact-tracing program early on, authorities were rushing to contain a new outbreak traced to night clubs.

“It’s not over until it’s over. While keeping enhanced alertness till the end, we must never lower our guard regarding epidemic prevention,” President Moon Jae-In said on Sunday.

New Zealand, which had success in fighting infection with one of the toughest and earliest lockdowns, said it would open malls, cafes, and cinemas this week.

“The upshot is that in 10 days’ time we will have reopened most businesses in New Zealand, and sooner than many other countries around the world,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference. “But that fits with our plan – go hard, go early – so we can get our economy moving again sooner.”

But some of the countries and territories that were taking steps to open up their economies were acting without yet reporting sustained falls in the spread.

India, which has locked down its population of 1.3 billion people since March, reported a record daily rise in cases. But it said it would begin to restart passenger railway services, with 15 special trains, from Tuesday.

Russia, where the death toll is still comparatively low but the caseload surging, overtook Italy and Britain to report the highest number of cases after the United States and Spain.

In the United States, where unemployment figures released last week were the worst since the Great Depression, President Donald Trump has been trying to shift the emphasis towards reopening the economy. Many states have begun loosening restrictions even though cases continue to rise.

While economies around the world are facing the worst contraction in living memory, stock markets have surged since the start of April, fuelled by unprecedented injections of cash from central banks. That has created unease that financial markets are out of whack with the economies they reflect.

There were signs of a shift in sentiment on Monday, with stock markets giving up their early gains.

“Since late March there has been an extraordinary divergence between the real economy and financial risk, with the latter helped by unprecedented policy accommodation,” said Alan Ruskin, head of G10 foreign exchange trading at Deutsche Bank.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaux, Writing by Peter Graff, Editing by Timothy Heritage)